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Biden’s Homeland Security pick vows to confront ‘domestic extremists’ as media clamor to pin ‘terrorist’ label on Capitol rioters

Biden’s Homeland Security pick vows to confront ‘domestic extremists’ as media clamor to pin ‘terrorist’ label on Capitol rioters
President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security has pledged to tackle “domestic extremism” amid growing calls in the press to treat those who stormed the US Capitol as homegrown “terrorists.”

Biden’s DHS hopeful, Alejandro Mayorkas, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday that he would address the issue of domestic extremism if confirmed for the role, while insisting he would empower the agency to do so in an “apolitical, nonpartisan way.”

“The threat of domestic extremism is one of the greatest challenges that the Department of Homeland Security confronts,” Mayorkas said at the Senate confirmation hearing, less than 24 hours before Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

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Mayorkas’ pledge comes weeks after a violent disturbance rocked Washington, DC, in which a swarm of supporters of President Donald Trump forced their way into the US Capitol to protest against the conduct of the 2020 election, leaving five people dead amid the chaos, including one demonstrator who was fatally shot by police.

The unrest on January 6 has unleashed a flood of media commentary demanding that the Capitol protesters and those of a like-mind be handled as “domestic terrorists,” clamoring for the US national security state to bring down the hammer, and all the relevant laws, on the supposedly home-bred militants. Mayorkas, if approved by the Senate, appears willing to heed those calls. 

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The American security apparatus has shifted its focus from foreign terrorist organizations, or “FTOs,” to more local concerns in recent years, with the FBI and DHS both increasingly sounding alarms over the “threat” posed by “domestic violent extremists.”

“The domestic threat environment is rapidly evolving,” the DHS wrote in an October 2020 “threat assessment,” warning that “some US-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020, which will drive an elevated threat environment at least through early 2021.”

As of last Sunday, at least 25 individuals accused of involvement in the Capitol riot have been charged under domestic terrorism laws.

Biden’s pick for Director of National Intelligence, Obama-era CIA Deputy Director Avril Haines, has also pledged to back up the DHS with intelligence on domestic extremists, saying she would help “support their work and look at connections” among suspects. She vowed on Tuesday, moreover, to provide an assessment on the “threat” posed by the QAnon conspiracy community if elevated to the job.

Senate approval for Mayorkas is not yet guaranteed, however, with Republican Senator Josh Hawley (Missouri) stating on Tuesday that he would challenge the nominee’s fast-tracked confirmation over his stance on immigration. Mayorkas was grilled by other GOP lawmakers over border issues during the same hearing, suggesting he may face further Republican opposition in the confirmation process.

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